Sunday, November 26, 2017

What's in a Name?

Remember the question "What's in a name?" from Shakespeare's play Romeo & Juliet. (Juliet argues, it does not matter that Romeo is from her family's rival house of Montague). This dialogue 'What's in a name?' from the play Romeo and Juliet, has been immortalized in our regular conversations, when we quote it wittingly for making an argument; names are secondary, qualities are primary.

Last week, few of us (colleagues) had been on a team lunch, to socialise & bond with our home-based employees, as we don't get opportunity to interact in person with them, on a daily basis. All of us, being in similar phase of life i.e. parents with young children, we were asking each other, names of their children and what was the meaning of their child's name. It was fascinating to come across so many unique names and profound meanings, which has roots in our rich heritage, culture, history, religion, mythology and ancient language Sanskrit.

Like all engaging conversations leads to different layers of discussions, this too wasn't different. My colleague Rizwana, asked me "Abhi, do you believe names have an influence on a child's (person's) behaviour and personality?". [Thanks Riz, your question became the impetus for this blog :-)].

It would be fun, if before reading further, you take a moment and try to formulate your opinion -
"Do you believe names have an influence on a child's (person's) behaviour and personality?" 

Welcome back! after the commercial  thinking break! I hope by now, you have your own opinion to the question asked by Riz :)

For now, this is my opinion: May be...

Thinking loudly here, let me elaborate....

We all (me included) spend lot of time in selecting names for our new-born (either our children, or children for our extended family and friends). Google search, visiting websites, consulting a pandit (counsel), calling up friends/relatives, combining alphabets from father's and mother's names, etc, etc, are many of the frenzies, we enthusiastically engage in with so much of love, affection and excitement, for shortlisting probable names for the new born child.

Few of us, mostly likely would have known at least one friend/colleague/relative/acquaintance who have legally changed their birth name, during their adulthood. There are of course, so many well-known artists who have two names, one for their creative profession along with their birth name. There are also instances, of people and celebrities, modifying their names by adding or removing an alphabet (possibly advised by a numerologist, to bring in success). 

The process of giving a new-born child a name, the sustenance of interests in their names, by so many people into adulthood, strongly suggests, names holds a very special meaning for us (probably, it's across all cultures).

If we didn't believe in the significance of name and if name didn't have a special meaning for us, would be devout so much of emotions and time, while selecting a birth name and for taking the trouble of modifying/adopting a name?

In continuation, to our conversations over lunch, Riz humorously asked me "Do you see Maharaja like behaviour in Kanishk?" (my eight year old son, who is named after King Kanishka a second century Kushan king, a patron of Buddhism who spearheaded the spread of Buddha's teaching).

Here's how the name was given to him. The Guruji, of my wife's family suggested us to keep our new born son's name starting with the alphabet क (K) [don't ask me why? not because I will get offended, it's because I also don't know :) The closest answer I can get to is - it's a cultural thing].

Me & my better half, have lot of affection for Buddha & we relate to Buddhist philosophy. So when we had to select a name for our son starting with the alphabet क (K), after lot of soul searching, we chose the name Kanishk. Now that he is 8 years of age, able to comprehend, we have told Kanishk, the meaning of his name and about King Kanishka.

If Kanishk embraces Buddhist philosophy as he grows up, would it be a consequence of the name's influence on him or because he identifies himself with the name or for a completely unrelated reason? I don't know...may be both ways...

When we are asked about our names and it's meaning and when we explain it, does it reinforces our belief and self-identity, with our name?
I don't know....may be....

Let me take a slight diversion and touch upon the concept of Label (Labeling), from the field of Psychology. Labeling is defined as, assigning a person to a category. I am sure, you must have come across N number of articles and videos, cautioning parents and educators, to refrain from negatively labeling a child. A repeated association of a negative label (e.g. stupid, lazy, dumb etc), can reinforce the belief and self-identify, in this label causing long-term damage to a child's self-esteem and personality. (By the way, this is not only restricted to a child, but also applies to adults. Ill practices like bullying, discrimination are manifestation of negative labeling).

Label (labeling) may not be cent percent equivalent with a Birth Name (naming), but it does share the same principle of belief, self-identify and reinforcements. Think about it!

Seems to me, I have a shift from my previously held opinion - 'may be'.

"What's in a Name?", with all due respect to Brad of Avon, I would say, there is "Lots in a Name". 

What's your opinion? Requesting you to share your comments on this blog post. It would be insightful for me and for all the readers, to get to know different perspectives, thoughts and opinion, on this famous question 'What's in a name?'

Image credit - Anurag Gaggar, Jan 07, 2017, Official OYO Blog

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Adaptability is a Key Ability


When we stumble upon the word adaptability, many of us are reminded of a famous quote "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent species. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.", isn't it?

Quite rightly so, as adaptability refers to the attribute of being able to adjust to new conditions & to reinvent oneself.

Keeping the theme of adaptability in background, let me ask you a question - What are Locusts?
I can hear you calling out, "Locust is an insect, which migrates in vast swarms, causing extensive damage to vegetation." & I hope you could hear me saying "Correct"!

By now, many of you might be thinking, what's so special in this seemingly irrelevant question & what is the connection between locust & the theme of adaptability?

This is where, the narrative becomes very interesting.....

Boris Uvarov, a Russian entomologist, during his early researches, made a strange observation - In one incipient locust swarm, he noticed swarming locusts and local grasshoppers were together. Also to his surprise, he noticed in this incipient swarm there were insects which seemed like an intermediate form of a grasshopper and a locust.

In the past, entomologists had always been mystified by the way locusts suddenly seemed to swarm out of nowhere & cause havoc on farmlands. Finally in the year 1921 Boris Uvarov, had the insight and he was able to connect the dots, with the observations he had made long time ago.

Locusts and grasshoppers were same species, but under stressed conditions of drought and diminishing food, grasshoppers laid eggs that hatched into locusts.


Let me ask you the question once again - What are Locusts?
I can hear you calling out a different answer this time, "Locust is a phase in grasshoppers life and during this phase, they behave very differently." You are right!

Under stressed conditions (droughts, scarcity of food), grasshoppers exhibits adaptability by laying a kind of eggs which hatches into locusts. Locusts have the ability to swarm and to fly far off in search of food. Thereby, they survive through drought seasons, by adapting themselves to the changed environment. When conditions become favourable (abundance of food), future generations would revert to being solitary grasshoppers.

I was amazed, when I read about the story of Locusts and Grasshoppers. How species adapts themselves with nature & how adaptation helps them to survive, is simply mind boggling!

The Locust story, also offers us lessons for life - to be adaptable and to be agile. The time we live in, is dynamic, constantly changing & is in a state of flux. Such times, calls for a special ability to survive. So let's be adaptable, after all Adaptability is a Key Ability, isn't it?
I can hear you calling out, "Yes" :-)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Education Series (6/7): Bridge the GAP between Classroom & Real-World

Bridge the GAP between Classroom & Real World

A school starts at 8:30 AM & closes at 1:10 PM. How long does the school work?

A bus starts from Mumbai at 7:20 AM & reaches Pune at 11:45 AM. How long does the bus take to reach Pune? 

These are typical questions in Chapter Time from Maths syllabus, taught in grade III. (My son studies in grade III, in urban Bengaluru).

In my observation, I find my son having difficulty grasping the conceptual understanding of time (clock). Problem statements like Quarter past..., Quarter to..., 12 hours-24 hours format, are typically confusing for him.

I do assist him with his studies & I have seen with regular practice he has made significant improvement in other chapters (numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). However, with Time chapter the conceptual understanding still remains shaky.

Few weeks ago, he wore his watch (digital watch, gifted by his Didi) to school. After 2-3 days of he wearing the watch to school, his class teacher told him, "Watches are permitted only from grade V onward" & he was advised not to wear watch in school. For us, this was a passing incident & I forgot about it with passage of time....

One fine day, while assisting my son on solving Time problems, a moment of insight struck me!

He is learning about Time in classroom but not practicing the learning in his day to day life (real world). On our part as parents, we have given him a digital watch instead of an analog watch. By using digital watch, he is unable to comprehend time concepts like 'quarter to 3 o'clock', 'quarter past 3 o'clock', 'half past 3 o'clock', but he has to face these questions in school.

On part of schooling, students are not allowed to wear watches till they reach secondary school. In other words, concept of time is being taught in primary school but they are restrained from putting their learning into practice, by not allowing them to wear a watch (analog).

This GAP between classroom & real-world, seems to be the root cause for his lack of conceptual understanding of Time (calculation related to watch).

Over the weekend, I got him a simple, economical Analog watch for regular use. The idea is to make him familiar using an analog watch in day to day life, so that conceptual understanding of time becomes a natural outcome of his daily life, rather than it remaining just a theoretical construct.

For few, this narrative may appear quite trivial, if one look's at it as one specific example (Chapter Time). In my mind, the larger question is "Do we consciously try to Bridge the GAP between classroom & real-world?" This is a profound question, worth introspecting for every parents & educators.

From my son's Maths syllabus, taking another example - Chapter Money. In this chapter, grade-III children are taught calculations related to Money (Rupees & Paisa). Typically in our culture, most of us (parents) seldom expose our children to real money, during their childhood. In other words, children are learning to calculate money (Rupees & Paisa), only as a theoretical construct without any real-world application. But imagine if we give our children nominal pocket money & offer them guidance & supervision on spending money (e.g. buying something in a departmental store), their learning of calculating money will transcend from classroom to real-world.

Personally, this incident (chapter Time) has given me some food for thought, to ponder upon. Different subjects & so many topics, gives us opportunities to innovate in our teaching methods to Bridge the GAP, between classroom & real-world.

As a matter of fact, schools following international curriculum have Bridge the GAP between classroom & real-world, as an integral part of their pedagogy. Technically, it is known as Experiential Learning (Hands on Learning). From my personal experience, I can say other parents like me (untrained educators) can incorporate the concept of Bridge the GAP between classroom & real-world, in their teaching methods by being conscious & creative, in their approach.

Tell me & I forget. Teach me & I remember. Involve me & I learn. - Benjamin Franklin

Image source: HubSpot 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Education series (5/7): Learn to Code, Code to Learn

Image from

In today's hi-tech, wired world 'Digital Native', is a very commonly used contemporary term.

Digital Native - A person born or brought up during the age of digital technology & so familiar with computers and the internet from an early age. (Definition from English Oxford Dictionary)

As today's children (digital natives) are exposed to technology from their early years, we intuitively believe, it gives them greater familiarity & understanding of technology, in comparison to previous generations.

Mitch Resnick (Director - Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab), convincingly expresses his skepticism about this general belief, in his TED Talk (Nov 2012, Brookline Massachusetts).

He asks us a pertinent question - "How do young people spend most of their time using new technologies?

From our personal experiences, we know children's (digital natives) interaction with technology is primarily browsing, watching videos, listening to music, chatting, texting & gaming.

Hence Mitch argues, digital natives are familiar interacting with new technologies, but they don't know how to create something original, by using technology.

"It's like they can read, but cannot write with new technologies." - Mitch.

In other words, children know how to use the codes (program), but they don't know how to code (create a program).

In today's digital world, coding has become a fundamental skill, irrespective of schools including coding in their curriculum or not.

With IoT, Robotics, AI, Machine Learning becoming the order of the world, learning the fundamentals of coding during their student life, empowers our children with awareness & understanding of coding (ability to write technology).

To help children learn to code, Mitch Resnick & his team, at Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab have developed SCRATCH.

Image from

SCRATCH is a programming language, which is Lego-like, drag & drop, visual & interactive. Children can learn fundamentals of coding (programming), using SCRATCH, in a playful manner.

It is designed as an educational tool designed especially for children between 8 to 16 years of age.
It is available online, free of cost.

Parents & Educators, can make use of SCRATCH, to help their children to Learn to Code. The children will eventually Code to Learn.

Learn to Code, Code to Learn!

Link for accessing SCRATCH:

Link for Mitch Resnick's TED Talk:

Requesting you, to spread the word around by sharing this blogpost. Through your thoughtful gesture of spreading awareness on SCRATCH, many students can get benefited from this free of cost, global educational tool. Thank You!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Education Series (4/7): Big History Project

This blogpost, is written for spreading awareness of free educational resources, which facilitates conceptual & experiential learning.

Can a Historian & a Technology Wizard collaborate on a project?

Generally, history & technology sounds like North pole & South pole, as history mirrors the past, while technology mirrors the future.

However when the technocrat is Bill Gates & the historian is David Christian, path breaking exceptions are bound to happen! Their collaboration has resulted into BIG HISTORY PROJECT.

Watch David Christian & Bill Gates, talk about Big History Project in a 2 minutes video:

Big History is an unified, inter-disciplinary approach of studying the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life & Humanity. BIG HISTORY PROJECT has been conceptualized to teach Big History (not for profit - free of cost) to middle & high school students across the globe.   

Big History syllabus covers the length & breath of almost everything, under the sun....ah! I mean, under the universe.

Big History syllabus
The Big History was introduced to the world community by David Christian at TED Conference - March, 2011. (Big Bang to Internet age, in a riveting 18 minutes talk) 

Big History Project can be accessed at: 
Teachers/Schools can register themselves & share the classroom code with the students, for accessing the course. 
If one does not have the classroom code, they can access the 'Lifelong Learners' module (shorter version).
Big History Project is also available on KhanAcademy.
Big History (taught by David Christian & David Baker, Macquarie University).
Available in both offerings: free version (no certificate) & charged (with certificate).

Benefits of Big History Project:

  • Thinking across scale
  • Integrating multiple disciplines
  • Offers different perspectives
  • Offers holistic understanding
  • Inspires love for learning

Requesting you, to spread the word around by sharing this blogpost. Through your thoughtful gesture of spreading awareness on Big History Project, many students would benefit from this free of cost, global classroom offering. Thank You!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Education Series (3/7): ChronoZoom - Big History made Visual

This blogpost, is written for spreading awareness of free educational resources, which facilitates conceptual & experiential learning.

Memories - Collage & Timelines....

One of the feature of Facebook, Google Photos, I like the most is auto-generated collage & timeline of our photos (good old memories & time gone by). Watching the timeline unfolding in front of our eyes, is like walking down the memory lanes & reliving those beautiful moments all over again.

This feel good factor, underlines the basis of human perception & information processing. We perceive & process far better, when information is presented in the form of visuals/images, rather than text/data.

Just imagine, how enriching a student's experience would be if they could visually perceive Big History Timeline, rather than reading it as text & dates!

Big History is a unified, multi-disciplinary approach of trying to understand the History of Cosmos, Earth, Life & Humanity. The timescale of Big History is an unfathomable 14 billion years (Big Bang to today's modern times). It's next to impossible, to gain a holistic understanding, unless a student is able to perceive the big history timescale, in the form of interactive visuals/images.


Is it possible to view big history in an interactive visual form?



By using ChronoZoom!

What is ChronoZoom?

ChronoZoom is a zoomable timeline of Big History. With ChronoZoom, a student can browse knowledge & interact with the time scale (zoom in zoom out). It makes the relation between time & events clear, vivid & easy to comprehend.

Is ChronoZoom, free?


Where can I access ChronoZoom?

What are the benefits of ChronoZoom?
  • Helps in visualising big history
  • Interactive timescale (zoom in, zoom out)
  • This technology, makes comprehension of 14 billion years possible
  • Facilitates conceptual & experiential learning
  • Makes learning fun

Requesting you, to spread the word around by sharing this blogpost. Through your thoughtful gesture of spreading awareness on ChronoZoom, many students would benefit in their conceptual & experiential learning. Thank You!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Parenting Series (5/5) - Financial Literacy (money management, a life skill approach)

There are many memories from college days, which stays with us for a longtime. Among them, one of my memory is of a classmate who used to maintain an Expense Log Book, keeping a track of his monthly allowances (pocket money). (We were in a residential program, living away from our families).

It has taken me two long decades since then to today, to fully appreciate my classmate's good money management skills & habit (maybe being a parent makes you wiser). Ironically, during our college days, most of us felt his daily ritual of accounting was overtly practical & boring. For us, college days were supposed to be carefree & careless. Running out of our pocket money by middle of the month, phir wohi udhari, len-den :-) (borrowing & lending), eagerly waiting for next month's money transfer & the cycle continued. In fact, by end of the academic year, our entire friend circle would be in debts :-).
In contrast this classmate of mine, would always have money in his bank account. Let me explicitly mention, so that one does not assume him to be a miser or a rich guy. He too enjoyed - watched movies, went to eateries, pooled in for birthday parties, joined us on excursions etc, all well-managed within his reasonable monthly allowances (pocket money). On top of it, he was our go to person (money lender) when we used to run out of cash (he financed us, without any interest %) ;)

After graduation, we all took different paths & we drifted away from our friends....knowing such intimate friendship would never be forged again in our adult - professional life.

In this new phase, with no best buddies around, it becomes a necessity to suddenly switch over from being careless with money to becoming careful & methodical with money management. Unfortunately, for many of us this transformation does not come naturally. For years our orientation towards money management has been random & lacked awareness. It's an uphill task to expect an overnight 180 degree turn in our conduct, from campus life to professional life.
In reality, our money management skills & habit, may take years to reach an optimal level & sadly for many of us, it may never transcend to the highest level of wealth creation.

At a fundamental level, my personal experience touches upon two key aspects:

1. Kind of people (students): 1st kind - Financially Literate (optimal money management skills/habit) & 2nd kind - Financially Illiterate (sub-optimal money management skills/habit).

2. Why Financial Literacy levels are different among people (students)?

In my opinion, the answer to Why Financial Literacy level differs? can be found in our approach towards parenting. And Financially Literate or Illiterate, is just an outcome of our approach towards parenting.

Think about it!

Our parenting style does not originate out of thin air, isn't it?
Rather it is deeply rooted in our socio-cultural-belief systems & it manifests itself from this paradigm.

Referring back to my personal story, during my growing up years my exposure to managing & understanding money (financial literacy) was negligible. Reflecting back, I realise it was a natural outcome of my socio-cultural background & my upbringing in a Bengali educated-working-middle-class family background.
Financial illiteracy during growing up years is not just limited to my personal experience, rather this is a typical scenario a child experiences during their growing up years, in an Indian educated-working-middle-class-family background.
Our Parenting approaches are more focused on formal education, good marks, entrance examination & aiming for a good job. In this road map of upbringing our children, sadly imparting life skills - Financial Literacy, is excluded from the syllabus.

Let's ask ourselves, what are the consequences for being Financially Illiterate?

Well not a rosy picture - financial bad habits, debts, low on savings & investments, risks not covered, no financial goals, forever dependency on job, lack of wealth, not achieving financial independence......a gloomy list!.

As a matter of fact, for our future generation, Financial Literacy will become far more important than ever before. Our children are going to live as adults (working professionals) in a future economy (world), which probably would be more uncertain & fast-paced change would be the only constant. Consumerism, targeted marketing (data analytics), push for instant gratification, easy loans, EMIs, spending through apps, digital wallets are going to be their constant companion. Therefore, Financial Literacy is a necessity for today's children & should be inculcated through their growing up years, before it's too late.

By being little creative, as parents we can develop 'N' number of ways to introduce Financial Literary (money management concepts) to our children. Listing out few broad approaches, in this direction:

  • During Late childhood (approx. 6 years to 12 years)
  1. Inculcation of Numismatics (coin collection) hobby in our children, is an interesting way of raising awareness about money/currencies.
  2. Piggy bank - introduces children to concept of savings & delayed gratification.
  3. Introduce children to concepts of M.R.P. (price), quantity (weight, ml), expiry date, best buy options, verifying bills etc. A fun & effective way of doing this is through experiential learning. Give them opportunity to shop, make payment, check bills in super-market/shops, under your guidance.
  4. Give them understanding of household cash flow (i.e. you work to earn money). So that children don't assume for long, ATM machines are Santa Clause in disguise :-)
  5. Introduce children to different modes of payments (hard cash, online, digital, cheque, DD etc)
  6. Opening a minor bank account, introduces the child to simple concepts of banking. Guide them to put their money in their bank account (e.g. their piggy bank collection, money they received as gifts/blessings during birthdays, festivals).
  • Adolescence (approx. 12 years to 16 years)
  1. Giving children pocket money (weekly/monthly allowances) & offering them basic guidance on how to effectively manage their expenses, within their budget (allowances). 
  2. Encouraging children to keep track of their allowances. As parent, you can go through their expense tracker on a periodic basis. (the idea is not to scrutinize, but to engage with them in a dialogue & help them learn best practices)
  3. Gradually & systematically, introducing our children to advanced concepts: Investments, Risk covers, Loans, Assets-Liabilities, Tax filing, Financial goals etc. You can offer them experiential learning by involving them in your regular finance management practices.
  4. Encouraging children to think, to ask questions, & to express their opinion. (Don't super-impose your thinking about money on them. The idea is to educate & empower our children by making them well-informed & not to sub-consciously super-impose our socio-cultural-beliefs of money on them).
  5. Last but not the least, the most difficult act - being a good role model :-) Children learn by observing. All the above strategies would be less effective, if they see us walk the talk. We will have to lead by example.

Food for thought!

All of us teach our children, 'HOW to earn money', by educating them to become independent working professionals. Unfortunately most of us, don't teach our children, 'WHAT to do with money', once they start earning!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Decoding Advertisements: Cocktail of Emotions

Image courtesy: Psychologist world (no copyright violation intended)

Our species, scientific name is Homo Sapiens.

The literal meaning of Homo Sapiens is Wise Man.

In this meaning, lies the satirical humour. Though we would like to believe we are wise, rational & make decisions based on deep thinking. The reality is by & large, we are driven by our emotions & feelings. Modern day Neuroscience, research studies in Behavioural Economics have exposed our irrationality & made us aware that our emotions overrides our rationality.

Let's look into the origin & meaning of the word Emotion.
As we can see in the below image, Emotion originated from Latin & French words which meant 'move' & 'excite'.
In the context of English language, Emotion means strong feelings, which drives us towards an action/thing/goal/behaviour.

Understanding Emotions a bit more: Emotions has a broad range & have many facets to it, intensity, time-span, explicit-implicit, verbal-non-verbal, cultural etc. For the sake of simplicity, let's fall back on the landmark study 'Constants Across Cultures in the Face & Emotion, by Ekman & Friesnen, W.V.' 1971 published in Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.

This study has shown, there are Six universal emotions which are recognised by all, across the globe, across all cultures. These six universally recognised emotions are:
  1. Happiness
  2. Sadness
  3. Anger
  4. Disgust
  5. Surprise
  6. Fear
The above landmark study was published in 1971. Since then till today year 2017, we have come a long way. With advancement of neuro-imaging technology, Neurosciences & Behavioural Sciences research has provided empirical evidences on brain-functionality (emotions & decision making).

These growing knowledge is finding application in several areas, just to name a few: Education & Teaching methodology, Policy making, Organizational/HR practices, Advertising & Marketing.

Let's take Advertising & Marketing, as a specific example. At this juncture we need to recognise, we are living in a consumption (consumerism) economy. To keep the consumption & hyper-consumerism galloping, advertising, selling, branding & marketing are deployed by companies to push their products & services. Infact, we find ourselves surrounded by advertisements - outdoor (billboards), print-media (newspaper, magazines), social media (FB, Youtube), TV, Apps, Radio/FM.

The knowledge of how emotions/feelings drive buying decisions & behavioural changes in a consumer, forms the core of an advertising strategy. Advertisements brings in these emotions into their story telling, which resonates with the audiences at an emotional/affective level. These feelings & emotions, sets the consumer into an act of buying, upgrading, change in behaviour.

A short video from Brand Equity show on ET Now, elaborating the above point: (Emotions behind the consumer buying decisions)

Examples of advertisements deploying these Six universal emotions in their story telling:
  • Happiness: Coke ran an ad series with tagline 'Open Happiness'. The ad associates the product (Coke) with the emotion/feeling of Happiness, in the consumer's mind. Hence for happy occasion like reunions, family get-together, celebrations, festivals etc the recall factor for Coke is high in the consumer's mind.

  • Sadness: HDFC Life ad series #memories for life, weaves the emotion of sadness into their story telling (portrayal of family members missing their dear one, on their special days). The insurance advertisement effectively uses sadness to make the consumer think - emotional loss can't be compensated, but at least one can leave behind financial independence for their family, God forbid if something untoward happens.

  • Anger: Policy Bazaar ad series 'Cancer se Ladai mein Insurance kaam aayega', depicts a cancer survivor, in anger (resentment) inspite of complete recovery. He is angry on himself, because he didn't purchase the insurance policy & he lost his life's savings for meeting the treatment cost. His anger (resentment) makes the audience think, what if this happens to me?
  • Disgust: In general, disgust being such a strong negative emotion advertisers are averse of incorporating it in their sales pitch. However, Govt. Campaigns which are targeted for social changes, behavioural changes, includes disgust to make their story telling more compelling & hard hitting. In these campaigns, disgust evokes a strong aversion in the mind of the audiences & makes them to critically introspect on their own behaviour.
Example, Anti-smoking campaign which portrays a disgusting deteriorating health symptoms (coughing) & a smoky, gloomy, unhealthy public place (canteen).

Example, Swatch Bharat campaign which portrays disgusting behavior of people, mindlessly throwing garbage, splitting, at public places, which causes the Lakshmi (Godness of wealth) to go away from these people's home. In Indian cultural context (religious), linking disgusting behaviour of garbage dumping & Goddess getting angry, will seed a thought in the audience's mind.
  • Surprise: Several jewelry companies, incorporate the emotion - surprise, into their story telling. The protagonist (giver) surprises his close one (e.g. spouse, partner, friend) by giving them a gift. The receiver expresses joy, happiness & feels elated upon receiving the surprise gift. Such compelling narrative, has the power to make the consumer replicate similar gifting behavior, for their loved ones.
  • Fear: Once again, in general fear being such a strong negative emotion advertisers are averse of incorporating fear in their sales pitch. However, fear is used specifically for specific segments e.g. OTC medicines, Insurances, Safety gears (helmets) etc. Fear is also incorporated for Govt campaigns which are aimed for social changes, behavioural changes. For e.g., campaigns for filing tax, campaigns for preventive health measures etc. Below is the link for advertisement. It's story telling narrative, portrays a daughter's fear for his father's (a small time farmer) well-being (what if there is no rain & he is in debt?). This fear leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the audience & they are able to appreciate the importance of the product (skymetweather), which offers real-time weather information to the farmer, assisting in his farming practices.

I hope this blogpost, has helped to some extend in raising understanding about how & why advertisements deploy emotions. In this concluding part, let's briefly look into the application of this Knowledge:
  1. Being self-aware advertisements appeal to our emotions & feelings. This self-awareness, puts rationality back into our decision making process.  
  2. Consumer (audience) can use their wisdom, to understand which advertisement has a positive influence (e.g. adapting healthy foods based on ads) & which advertisement has a negative influence (e.g. overindulgence, overspending). This understanding offers an opportunity for making well informed decisions.
  3. Children, teenagers are more gullible to advertisements compared to adults, due to their limited awareness & maturity level. As parent/guardian, we have a responsibility to raise awareness among children, teenager & guide them during their formative years. After all, today's children, teenagers are going to live their entire life in this era of Big Data, IoT, Social media, Digital & Vritual world. Therefore, knowledge of Behavioural Sciences is going to be a key life skill, for today's children, so that they can nurture their well-being during their adulthood!    

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Parenting Series (4/5) - Jab Self-Control ho Out of Control....

Aal Izz Well mantra, jab life ho Out of Control :) (Image courtesy: 3 Idiots movie)

Jab life ho Out of Control, toh hoton ko kar ke gol.............Aal Izz Well :)

A simple yet profound philosophy, told in the song 'Aal Izz Well' from 3 Idiots movie.

In a nut shell: Life in or out of control, is dependent on random events, on which we don't have direct control. Hence no point in fretting about it, instead let's have a positive self talk - Aal Izz Well... & face the challenges in life head on.

However, when we withdraw from the outward world & look inward, we can start singing a similar rhyming song: Jab Self-Control ho Out of Control...... but in our right senses, we will fall short of concluding the stanza - Aal Izz Well.


We can attribute life 'in or out of control', to random events which our beyond our direct control. Hence we can try to make peace with the situation at hand & deal with it with positivism (aal izz well).

However, the attribution of Self 'in or out of control', ends up only with self (ourselves). Hence, we can't pass on the buck & have a pep talk. The only two possibilities left for us are - self acceptance of our own flaws or to take ownership for self-improvements. All of us know, these are easier said than done.

Image courtesy: 

Before we even embark upon the uphill task of dealing with the issue of our self-control, let's first evaluate the need for self-control, by exploring it's relevance & it's pervasiveness across various dimensions.

Relevance: (listing out few of the direct outcomes of lack of self-control)

  • Addiction
  • Hyper consumerism (impulsive buying, wants over needs)
  • Eating disorders (over-eating, imbalanced towards junk/fast food)
  • Inappropriate social behaviour (inability to manage emotions)
  • Delinquency (wasting time in unproductive activities)
  • Mis-management of personal finance (instant gratification - spending over savings/investment) 
  • Mis-management of self (inability for time management, discipline)
  • Lack of focus towards achieving one's goal (inability to avoid distractions, impulses)

On mapping the above list of relevance, it becomes alarmingly evident to us, the issue of lack of self-control is pervasive, i.e. percolates into every dimensions of our life. Health, Emotional well-being, Social life, Career (profession), Personal life (as an individual, in a family unit), Financials, Academics, Success & Failure.

When an issue has such high relevance & is all pervasive, it should be dealt proactively. 

The concept of self-control, it's dynamics, it's relative strength among individuals etc are a complex myriad of topics. With the objective of drawing one simple, practical lesson, this blogpost is focused on 'Parenting strategy for developing Self-control in children'.

Cartoon depicting Donald Duck's challenge as a parent, in instilling self-control in his child

Sharing from my personal experience as a father, in our home there are occasional instances of my son (now 8 years of age) overshooting his pre-determined screen time (half an hour per day). The typical scene would be, he will ignore our reminders, he will say "the game is almost over", "the game is just about to get over, wait", "2 minutes"! If pushed a bit harder, tears, tantrums & resentment are quick to follow. Last week, one such incident went a bit out of hands. He was not at all receptive, he refused to listen to us, was crying, showing frustration, anger & was desperate to take an additional 15 minutes of screen time. As a natural reaction, my wife scolded him & she stood her ground turning a blind eye to his tantrums & tears.

I am not debating on right or wrong approach, rather just speaking from my own personal experience from my growing up years: yelling, punishment, threats, supervision, external control do not yield long-term gains. These approaches produces temporary results, but it is associated with collateral damages: emotional drama, adverse affect on parent-child bonding, the foundation of self-control is not put within the child, rather the controlling is driven from outside supervision (parent/guardian).

Just look at the above mentioned list of relevance & pervasiveness - it spans across lifespan & percolates across all dimensions of life. Can we parents, all the time hover over our children supervising them?  The answer is obviously a Big No. 

So what is the answer, for dealing with our children, jab Self-control ho Out-of-control?

At the risk of sounding cliche, let me quote the answer "Responding & not Reacting".

Development of Self-control within a child is to be looked as an organic process & like any organic process, it takes time & takes efforts to nurture it. 

One of the practical tool for instilling self-control in a child is making use of 'Parent - Child Behaviour Contract'. (Google search will provide you lot of free resources (templates) for Parent-Child Behaviour Contract). 

The principles of contract as we know in adult world remains the same, when it is used in parent-child scenario. 

Let's ask ourselves why contracts works in adult world? Or why we follow contracts as an adult?
When I as an adult enter into a contract with another individual or an organisation, there are terms & conditions, which are jointly discussed, reviewed, mutually agreed upon. There are consequences (gains & penalties) attached with the contract. Since I am involved in the contracting process & I voluntarily agree & sign, I am internally driven to abide with the contract. 

This same logic translates to the child, when they enter into a parent-child behavior contract. The child is in discussion mode with the parent in a cold emotional state (when there are no emotional tantrums ongoing). Hence the discussions, questioning, clarification, mutual agreement etc are based on logic, mutual love, respect & understanding between the child & the parent. There is no upper hand, rather the child & the parent are equals. Thus the child is more likely to exhibit intrinsic self-control (desired behaviour), while in real time action (i.e. lives up to the spirit of the contract).

Coming back to the issue I shared about my son & his undesirable behaviour of over-shooting his screen time while playing video game. On that particular day, to avoid the reaction (tantrums) & to move towards a responding mode, I made a one time, brief behaviour contract with my son (image shared below).

Parent-Child Behaviour Contract (video games) between me & my son

I agreed upon giving him additional 15 minutes of screen time & we mutually agreed upon the consequence (if he does not stop after his allocated extra time, he misses out on playing video games for two subsequent days).

Since this approach is scientific in nature (behavioural science), the probability of it's success is high & it did work for us on that day.

The plan for us now, is to have a longer contract with our son on his video game usage - pre-determining the screen time/per day & incorporating some rewards (milestone based) & penalty (outcome based). Over a period of time, when his self-control grows stronger, the contract can be modified or scrapped. And as necessary, we can forge a new contract for a different problem at hand. I am sure, such problems will be in abundance, it's part & parcel of parenting :) but it's fun! It's a journey of learning & growing together.

Note: Images from internet search, no copyright violation intended.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Education Series (2/7): Break Free from Categorical Thinking in Education

Categorical Thinking - organising information into Categories
The world we live in is very complex & to process all the information would require much cognitive work. To facilitate this task, we humans make use of Categorical Thinking, i.e. we automatically organise & categorise information in our mind.

For example, our Geo-political world is categorised into continents & countries; People are categorised based on socio-economic parameters, Industries are categorised based on products & service offerings. The list is endless......just think about anything under the sun & you will notice they are organised into specific categories, in our schema (our perceptual system categorises & organises every aspect of our world into a mental category).

In a nutshell, Categorical Thinking is an essential psychological adaptation, to effectively perceive & comprehend the world around us.

Over the years, Research in Psychology has made us aware of the perils of Categorical Thinking: Rigid/Fixate thinking & Bias.Hence, we need to consciously remind ourselves of these downsides, to safeguard ourselves from it's threats.

Categories are made for the ease of organising information. Unfortunately we lose touch with this fundamental concept & our quality of thinking gets restricted within the boundaries of specific category. Thereby resulting in rigid & fixate thinking.
We also tend to develop bias (positive & negative), towards categories based on our affective (liking, dislikes) & cognitive (thinking) attributes.

My son's class -III time table

The phenomenon of Conceptual Thinking, struck me while looking at my son's school time-table. He is class III & his time-table is categorised into Languages (Hindi & English), Art, Science, Maths, Computers, Sports & Music. 

The categorisation of his weekly school routine is needed for planning & execution of the academic session. However, as conscious parent (educator) it is on us, to safeguard our child's mind from falling prey to the perils of Categorical Thinking, due to an administrative arrangement. 

A class is for a particular subject, the next class is for another subject & this cycle repeats through the entire academic session, year on year. This routine & rigor, poses threat to student's thinking ability to connect the dots across subjects (categories), thus restraining them into Only Categorical Thinking. Since the students thinks about subjects in terms of this rigid category, they start adapting 'All or None' approach (Black & White thinking). Eventually, the affective aspects (liking or disliking) becomes a major determinant for a student's outlook & approach, towards a particular subject(s). 

In a nutshell, students are faced with the threats of rigid/fixate thinking within a subject (category) & tend to develop bias (negative & positive) towards subjects (category). 

The preventive measures for safeguarding students from threats of Categorical Thinking is by training them 'how to think'. Over a period of conscious, systematic grooming, the students will eventually grow into independent critical thinkers. They would be able to escape the rigid boundaries of categories & will be able to connect the dots, across the big picture. 

Since I started with a specific timetable, let me elaborate on 'how to think', with another specific example. From the class time table, let us pick up one subject - English Literature. The English Reader is introduced with a has a beautifully written foreword page by Ruskin Bond.

Foreword page - English Literature Reader

At a quick glance, we notice the key words in the foreword page are different genres of literature & names of famous writers. 
If I approach the foreword page, with Categorical Thinking, I will restrict myself only in the realm of English literature. 
However, if I approach the foreword page, without thinking categorically, I would guide my son to Google search Mussorie :- A hill station, in the state of Uttarakhand.........he unknowingly would enter into the realm of Geography from English Literature.
By telling my son about Tagore, Sarojini Naidu,.......he unknowingly would descent into the realm of History, from English Literature. 
By introducing my son to Ruskin Bond's Wikipedia page :- Anglo Indian origin, British India, Movies adaptation of his books (Blue Umbrella, Junoon, 7 Khoon Maaf),........... he would unknowingly wander into the realm of History, Social Studies & Cinema from English Literature. 

Such training on 'how to think' in education can be adopted for all subjects (lessons/books), thus encouraging an integrated outlook in students, instead of remaining in silos. By making this approach a norm, a regular habit, students over a period of time will break free from Categorical Thinking in their approach towards education. This practice will increase their critical thinking, problem solving skills & creativity. In essence they will be better prepared to take on the real world, where things happens in a flux & not in category.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Learning from failures in Team Sports

TEAM UNDERDOGS: From L to R - 1. Meldon (Captain), 2. Sashwath, 3. Abhishek Pathak, 4. Halesh, 5. Asmitha & 7. Abhishek Ghosh [6. Is BFC footballer Chhuantea Fanai. Teams which qualified into semi-finals had the privilege to interact with BFC players] 

What a day it was! Sunday, 14th of May-2017, BFC (Bengaluru Football Club) organised an event BFC Day Out, at Bangalore Football Stadium. For football enthusiast like me, the 5 a side tournament was the star attraction.

It was an open invite, online registration for participation which attracted football enthusiasts from all over Bangalore & also from other cities (one of our team mate Sashwath came down from Chennai).

The 5 a side team was formed by random assignments of the participants. Total of 24 Teams competed in the day long tournament.

Our Team UNDERDOGS, came 3rd among the 24 teams...... we came a long was so near, yet so far. When we started off, none of us expected we would come that far into the tournament. Sadly failing in the semis was heart breaking. A bitter-sweet experience & a day full of bright moments, which will remain itched for a long time in our memories.

I am writing this blogpost, not as a memoir, but from the point of view of a Psychologist (I being a Psychologist). We become wiser in the hindsight, looking back I listed down my learning from the failure we faced, taking the approach of Sports Psychology.

  • Transforming a group into a Team:
Football is a team sport & like any team sport, individual brilliance alone cannot take the team over the finishing line. Therefore the key to success in tournaments where teams are formed by random assignment is transforming a 'Group into a Team' within the limited time period.

When we all met for the first time in the morning, we did put in conscious effort in knowing each other e.g. our names, professions, home, football interests, we sat together in a hurdle chatting & sharing snacks etc. This bonding & camaraderie gave us positive results in the form of 3 consecutive victories. In fact, one of the player from an opponent team asked me "Do you guys know each other & play together?" When I told him, we met just a while back for the first time, he was surprised & complimented our team's good coordination & formation play. I personally believe, if an opponent player was able to make this observation, it must have been an outcome of our collective effort of transforming our group into a team, which played as a cohesive unit.

By noon time, there was a One & half hour break (lunch, rest time). During this break, unfortunately, we didn't hang in together as we did in the morning. Rather we got dispersed for the entire break time, only to reassemble just before our next round of matches. Sadly, this time around we met with shocking results, losing 2 consecutive matches in semis & getting knocked off from securing a berth in the finals.

A word of advice for players, participating in similar format tournaments. Make a conscious effort to be together all throughout. Off the pitch efforts of knowing one other, bonding & camaraderie, will bring positive results on the pitch. One cohesive team trusting & enjoying each other's company, will always outshine their opponents, in a team sport.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

Namdhari XI, who emerged as 7th Hockey sub-junior Champion, beating Mumbai School Sports Association (MSSA) on 5th May, 2017 is a classic example, which testifies the importance of Team formation in Team Sports.

Namdhari Hockey Academy is based in a non-descript village of Sant Nagar, 55 kms from Sirsa towards the Rajasthan border on state highway 32. Most of the players belong to Namdhari sect & are from same village & they have been training together in the academy since their childhood over several years.

The MSSA team had talented players, who were chosen through a tough scouting/talent search process all through out the state of Maharashtra.

Sine the Namdhari XI players have been together for many years & their bond is at a different level altogether. They were a formidable force all throughout the tournament & ultimately emerged as champions in the fiercely fought final's against MSSA, beating them 2-1.

  • Don't break the momentum:  
While waiting during the long noon break time, I made a comment during my conversation with my teammates Meldon & Asmitha, "Our momentum is broken, due to this long break. It would have been good if the tournament had got over in one shot, rather than being played in two halves, pre-noon & post-noon."
Unfortunately, this passing comment of mine did come true. Once our momentum was broken, our team never, managed making a successful come back in the post-noon session.

A word of advice for players, facing similar situation do your level best to retain your momentum. The time gap, is not in your control but what you do during the time gap is within your control. Keeping the team engaged, staying focused on the goal through planning & discussion, warm up sessions etc can restrict the momentum from fizzling out.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

We have see this phenomenon occur so many times, during strategic time out sessions in Indian Premium League (IPL) Cricket matches. This couple of minutes of break, puts a jolt on the ongoing momentum of the better performing team. When the match resumes after the strategic time out, on many instance the side who were going great guns (either scoring runs or bowling tightly) suddenly appears unsettled, yet to fall into the grove. This break in momentum, allows the under performing team to bounce back & seize an opportunity to turn around the script.

  • Facing stiff competition & Failing early on, is a blessing in disguise: 
In the post noon-session, our team mate Abhishek Pathak did put across a word of caution "In all our previous matches we have always secured the first lead (goal). But if in semi-final match we concede a goal first, let's not allow it to adversely affect us. Let us believe, we can bounce back."

Once again, unfortunately, Abhi's word of caution came true. We conceded a goal early on, trailing from behind being our first such experience in a high pressure match (semi-finals) got the better of us. We probably succumbed due to our inexperience & our lack of grit to effectively handle failure.

A word of wisdom for players, if you face set-back during the early stages of the league see it as a blessing in disguise. These initial failures prepares you to take on failures head on, during the advanced stages into the league.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

Indian cricket team's famous run up to the finals, in ICC World Cup, 2003. In Pool - A, India won all the matches except one against Australia (won 5 out of 6). In Super Six stage, India won all the matches (3), winning semi-finals before the succumbed in the finals to Australia. In other words, India lost the finals after their 8 consecutive victories. Probably, few more defeats in the group stage would have conditioned (prepared) them better to handle tough situations during the final match, facing a tough opponent like Australian cricket team. 

  • Don't allow the pressure of big match, unnerve you:
Our Captain Meldon named our team 'UNDERDOGS', quite aptly. The name suited us, because when we met for the first time none of us had any high expectations nor hope of going so far into the tournament (reaching semi-finals). Hence the name Underdog resonated with us because we were oblivious of both internal (our's) & external (other's) pressures. Our ability to stay away from pressure & expectations paid rich dividends as we won 3 consecutive matches in the knock-out stages.

But as we progressed into the league reaching the semi-finals, the tag of 'semis' played in our mind. We could see the finals just a match away & we wanted to desperately win the semis. This desperation, pressure, expectations became a deterrent to our enjoyment & our natural playing abilities. In summary, we failed to keep things simple during the pressure situation.

Real world evidence of this phenomenon - 

Indian cricket team's famous 1983 World Cup win against defending champion West Indies, is a classic example of this phenomenon. India were underdogs & no one gave them a change. The Indian team approached the finals as just another match & they were happy to have made it so far. On the other hand West Indies had so much of expectations riding on them both internal & external. The pressure on them was enormous & the West Indies players were confident (possibly over-confident) of an assured win, while going into the match. Rest is history, the underdogs India defeated the mighty West Indies & became the World Champion. 

Sadly, this UNDERDOGS Team, couldn't manage to become the Champions on the BFC Day Out Tournament Day (we wholeheartedly accept, we lost to a better team). Inspite of this failure, we achieved a lot on that day. We gained experience of playing in such tournaments, we enjoyed playing football throughout the day, enjoyed competing against several equally talented teams in the true spirit of sportsmanship & above all making forging a relationship of friendship with our new teammates - 'The Underdogs'.